jeudi 8 avril 2010

Bertrand Duchaufour speaks of L'Artisan Parfumeur Nuit de Tubéreuse: an Exclusive Interview (Part I)

Last December, Bertrand Duchaufour handed me a small vial from the first batch of his new tuberose fragrance so I could test it -- in fact, I wear it, which is very different. And having worn it frequently, alternating both with other tuberose fragrances and with other recent Duchaufour compositions, I think that his Nuit de Tubéreuse for L’Artisan Parfumeur may be his best work so far in the new, more sensuous style heralded by Havana Vanille and Al Oudh for L’Artisan, Amaranthine and Orange Blossom for Penhaligon’s. In this approach centered on the intrinsic properties of the raw material rather than the representation of the original flower, he seems to have more perceptibly integrated the tension, the asperities, the touch of weirdness that made Timbuktu or Dzongkha so distinctive. Which makes me think we’ll be witnessing another step in Duchaufour’s evolution in the coming months…

Tuberose lovers may be surprised: Nuit is a novel interpretation of a notoriously difficult to handle note, but one on which cult fragrances like Fracas, Tubéreuse Criminelle or Carnal Flower seem to have said the last word, because it tackles tuberose from a very different angle.

While Germaine Cellier dealt with the strident diva by matching her with mellow orange blossom, Serge Lutens and Christopher Sheldrake by amping up the jarring wintergreen top notes to achieve a baroque effect, and Dominique Ropion by precision-engineering the play between her green coolness (injecting a gust of eucalyptus) and her coconutty creaminess, Bertrand Duchaufour has gone and unceremoniously pulled her up by the roots.

He’s teased tuberose absolute apart to push its vegetal, moist earth facets to the fore, then plunged her headfirst into a green mango/pink pepper accord so terpenic it could be mistaken for incense, and subtly sulphurous like many tropical fruit.

This mango is a mutant, slightly venomous, spiky fruit whose greenness, offsetting mango’s lactonic aspect, is grafted onto the flower’s greenness and creaminess. As for the heady tuberose heart – the aspect of the flower most commonly exploited – it is still legible, but only if you read between the lines. Which means, in a way, that Nuit de Tubéreuse bears Duchaufour’s stamp all over: those rooty, resinous smells he’s often been drawn to, his attraction toward difficult notes as though he just had to rise to their challenge, his way of blasting through the clichés of perfumery, not least that a fragrance has to be pretty

And yet, this ass-over-head – or rather, roots over petals – tuberose is also beautiful, in spite or because of those whiffs of moist earth it seems to want to return to as soon as it’s let out of the bottle. The scent is easier to wear than some of its author’s older compositions – and a lot easier to carry off in the daytime than her sillage-monster sisters, despite its nocturnal reference: this is tuberose lit from the inside, and slightly muted as a result. You can smell it on yourself, but its trail develops as you move rather than trumpeting its presence within a ten-meter radius. That is, unless you drench yourself in it as I’ve been doing for the past four months.

Nuit de Tubéreuse won’t knock Carnal Flower off my tuberose podium (Tubéreuse Criminelle currently ranks second, with Beyond Love in third position). It doesn’t need to. I’m putting up a separate pedestal for it, because as tuberoses go, it brings something totally different to the conversation.

And now, on to mine with Bertrand Duchaufour.

Denyse Beaulieu: How do you see tuberose?

Bertrand Duchaufour: Tuberose is very heady, very suave, lactonic, indolic, opulent, orange-blossom-like, but the real flower doesn’t display all the facets of the absolute. In the flower, you can smell some medicinal or mushroom notes, as you do in gardenia, but they are exacerbated in the absolute, which gives the raw material an almost dichotomous personality, with a very positive aspect, pleasant, sensuous, creamy, soft, rich, dense, and next to that much more negative effects -- medicinal, chemical, antiseptic, wet cardboard, papier mâché, plastery, rocky, mineral -- which aren’t necessarily pleasant and can even feel suffocating. When you smell tuberose absolute for the first time, you’re really dismayed, you find it fascinating, but some people, after a hasty analysis, will say: “No, this stuff is disgusting.”

It was this duality that drew you in, wasn’t it?

Exactly. I’ve tried to analyze the psychology of the raw material as I would’ve analyzed the psychology of Dr. Jekyll turning into Mr. Hyde. It’s always a captivating challenge for a perfumer to use tuberose as a main theme. It’s so rich and so strange that no one can stay indifferent to it, and at the same time, it’s so hard to use properly that it’s a huge challenge.

How much tuberose absolute did you actually put into the formula?

A little over one percent, with other rich floral notes such as broom, ylang, jasmine, to help build up the floral note and bring out all the aspects of tuberose. I’ve also exploited the orange blossom note and made an accord out of it, as well as the creamy gardenia note, which is another accord. Those are the heart notes. Next to that, there are the negative aspects of tuberose which I’ve also exploited to the hilt in the top, heart and bases notes, by trying to match the green, mineral, root-like, asparagus effects of tuberose with other raw materials.

During the first half-hour, Nuit de Tubéreuse does goes through a very earthy-vegetal, almost mouldy phase.

I wouldn’t say mouldy. Rooty. In the earthy effect, you can have rooty effects and mouldy effects. Patchouli has a mouldy effect. But the root/asparagus effects found in earth – fresh root, cut root – are characteristic of tuberose. It also has mothball effects that should be distinguished from the mouldy ones. I’ve played on the green, rooty, pyrazine effects with angelica, petitgrain absolute and a slightly mushroomy/green accord brought about by the green mango accord.

A friend smelled it on me and immediately cried out: “It’s the third pillar of the church of the Gesu, in Rome!” For him, it smelled of incense.

But there’s no incense in it. Those terpenic effects are produced by mango and pink pepper, which both share facets with incense. I didn’t want to play on incense because I’d already used it a lot. Mind you, I also often play with pink pepper, but here it felt relevant to use it. And I’ve used it in industrial quantities: there’s 4 percent of pink pepper, which is enormous.

Actually, the first time I wore Nuit de Tubéreuse, the pink bay was so huge I missed it entirely.

That’s it, exactly. I matched the vibrant, terpenic effects of pink pepper with mandarin aldehydes and green mandarin effects which suit it well and mask the obvious: the presence of pink pepper.

In Havana Vanille, you centered the scent on the vanilla absolute then rebuilt vanilla in all its facets through other materials which you put in orbit around the core. Have you worked on Nuit de Tubéreuse in the same way?

Absolutely: vanilla is an olfactory theme, just like tuberose, so I proceeded in exactly the same way, even though the notes have nothing in common, which is to say I used vanilla through all its facets, and exploited those facets through all the accords…

Including the more unpleasant or shocking ones.

For me, nothing is ever unpleasant, especially in a natural product, unless it really stinks a lot! You can’t say natural vanilla is unpleasant: it’s contrasted, facetted.

I get the feeling you explore your materials as though they were new, as though they’d never been used… But there are truckloads of tuberoses on the market!

But they’ve always been exploited through the same floral, thick, heavy, lactonic facets! There are lactones, but they’re not used in a way that makes the product lactonic. They’re only there to enrich the floral accord: the gardenia, tuberose, jasmine effect… Don’t you agree?

The fragrance does bring something new to the tuberose palette. I don’t think someone who wears Carnal Flower or Tubéreuse Criminelle will be on familiar grounds here.

True. It’s very present and at the same type, completely veiled. That’s why you can say « nuit de tubéreuse » [« night of the tuberose »]. Night is a mask! We’ve played on the name in many ways, by unveiling the nocturnal smell of tuberose, its Mr. Hyde face, which had never been revealed by existing fragrances. Its strange, nocturnal, dark side, veering on the poisonous, the dangerous.

Hey, don’t forget Tubéreuse Criminelle!

Well yes, now that you mention it, there is that…

But unlike the very expansive tuberose classics, yours feels more internalized, more introverted: it’s almost an intellectual tuberose.

True, it’s not extraverted. But it’s still radiant and sparkling! There are a lot of fresh, zesty, green notes at the top… Does it radiate outwards? No, actually! The effects are so green that it becomes dark green, emerald green veering on blue. If I had to give this tuberose a colour, it would be a totally nocturnal green-blue sapphire…

After Amaranthine and Orange Blossom, you’ve embarked on a floral series.

Only by chance. I did them in completely different contexts.

They’re still quite a change from what you usually do. Don’t tell me you’ve practiced that style a lot!

Solar or white floral fragrances? I’ve done some, but not much in niche.

I’ve often told you, and I’m not the only one who’s noticed it: your style is changing.

It’s changing through force of circumstances. Two or three years ago, I was working in an office and I had an assistant who made all my formulas. I had acquired a very specific approach to perfumery, which is that of all the perfumers in the big labs. By becoming independent, by working in my own lab, directly on my formulas, by weighing them, I’ve developed a different approach to perfumery, another way of building my perfumes. My control over raw materials is getting better and better. I believe I use them more judiciously.

And that’s the only reason for your evolution? Simple as that?

Simply from my direct contact with raw materials. That, I’m sure of. And I’m still evolving. I don’t perfume in the same way at all. And besides, wait a minute! There’s also the fact – and that’s enormous – that before setting up at L’Artisan Parfumeur I used to work with a certain quality of raw material and a certain quantity of that quality. If I had 150 euros [per kilo of oil] to work with, that was monumental! Usually, when you make a product for Dior or L’Oréal, it’s going to cost you between 60 and 80 euros. Now, some products cost between 400 and 600 euros. That changes everything! You don’t make the same perfumes!

Your work has also become more sensuous. Is this also because you use richer materials?

I’d say it is. And also because I was allowed to play, whether at L’Artisan Parfumeur, Penhaligon’s or others, in much more sensuous, floral, feminine registers, in which I didn’t usually work much.

Your style used to revolve around incense, woods, resins, it was rather austere…

I can still work in that style, but I play on other things now, I’m working in more and more registers. In fact, I’m also working on musks, colognes, fresh eaux… I love it! Me, I like to work on everything.

End of Part I. Part II will be published on Monday April 12th.

All rights reserved. This interview may not be reproduced without the authorization of its author.

Image: Henri Matisse, Blue Nude, Memory of Biskra (1907)

31 commentaires:

  1. Utterly fascinating interview, thanks so much for sharing it with us. I'm very much looking forward to smelling Nuit de Tubereuse (whenever it gets to the US, that is...)

  2. I'm cheating...I'm going to comment on the review of NdT first, before plunging into the interview...because I am loving the idea of a tuberose brought down to (into? revealing?) earth. Fracas is a commotion on me...TC a knowing wink...Carnal Flower hedonistic...but none really work for *me.* (A bold statement among perfumistas, I know...just saying, none speak to me personally.) I will definitely be seeking out NdT for a run around the track.

    Okay, on to the interview...these are always such a treat!

  3. Muse, it was a pleasure conversing with Bertrand who is, I must say, a refreshingly straightforward interviewee!

  4. ScentScelf, I love all of those classics but NdT is in a class of its own.

  5. ::drool::

    That is all.

    Any idea when we'll be getting this in the states? I'm going to need to sniff this toute de suite.

  6. Wow, very nice interview and write-up, D.

    Part Deux, please!!!


  7. Hi, Denyse. Fascinating review and interview. I sincerely hope we get this in the US soon -- L'Artisan distribution in the US has seemed a bit erratic recently.

    I was very interested to read Monsieur Duchaufour's thoughts on how his style is changing, and how just the act of working more closely with raw materials (as well as with better raw materials) is transforming his approach.

    And yes, tuberose absolute has some rather disturbing olfactory facets, compared to the fresh flower!

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  9. Denyse -- Finally! After reading your interview with Duchaufour, I understand the first thirty minutes of JAR Bolt of Lightning: vegetal, rotting, stalky, mineralish.

    I could never quite figure out what all that had to do with tuberose, but now I know that this is what a hefty dose of tuberose absolute brings to the picture.

    I'm very curious as to what Duchaufour has done with his tuberose, and I'm wondering if Bolt of Lightning even registers on your list of tuberose fragrances you admire/love . . . ?

  10. Jarvis, it's been so noticeable of late... I find that approach very interesting in that it exhibits the structures of the composition process (apart from the fact that the stuff just plain smells great).

  11. Nathan, I'm afraid JAR isn't on my radar. Somehow the idea of going through that JAR boutique ceremony puts me off, in the same way I don't enjoy theatre much. I like to set my own pace, on my own terms.

  12. As we've discussed in the past, I do like this approach of deconstructing the multiple facets of the natural, accentuating certain aspects, and reconstructing up again. It's not just about deconstruction, because the pieces get put back together in interesting and beautiful ways.

    I find the JAR fragrances initially arresting when first smelled, but they seem to fall apart on the skin over time. With Bolt of Lightning, it often made me wonder whether they just bottled some high quality tuberose absolute and slapped a label on it.

  13. I cannot wait. simply cannot wait for Nuit de Tubereuse!!

    Does it remind you at all of Un Matin d'Orage in style? I mean, it sounds like a Tuberose version of UMdO, no?

    Excellent interview - a joy to read.

  14. Jarvis, exactly: he exposes the structure then pulls it towards a new structure.

  15. Abigail, it doesn't remind me at all of Un Matin d'Orage -- no crackling ozonic note to it, and a much spicier feel with the cardamom absolute. You can tell it's in the same movement as Amaranthine, but it's less creamy.

  16. Very interesting. There's a lot to chew on in BD's responses...I find myself, however, ruminating the most on the simplest of his statements: that he attributes a "change" in his style to more direct contact with natural materials.

    It was good of you to bring up a reminder re: Tuberose Criminelle in the context of mothballs/camphor, since it is certainly there! I allow plenty of room for other ways to bring up this aspect in a tuberose perfume, since the camphor in TC strikes me as a literal "in your face" opening slap that treats me like a mule. As in the old saying, when you need a mule to do something, first you need to get its attention.... The net effect for me is TC gets my attention (not pleasantly), and then goes back to basics. Meaning there's plenty of room for an integrated approach...or, as BD says, "present but veiled."

  17. ScentScelf, I think there may be more to Bertrand's change in style than what he himself states. Some of it may come from his maturity as a perfumer and man (he just turned 50) and his continuing curiosity... But certainly, his exploring materials is a major part of it. I remember being in his lab once when he pulled out a very weird new mat, saying with relish "I've got to find a way to work this into a perfume!"
    He loves the challenge of weird stuff, just like a little kid!

    Re: Tubéreuse Criminelle, I personally adore the opening, but I remember speaking with Chris Sheldrake about it and he said "the only thing that's criminal is the top notes". I just wanted to make the point to Bertrand that the venomous aspect of tuberose *had* been explored, though not in the way he does it.

  18. And your interview does bring out that element of play, where he notes that certain of his employers have allowed him to do so. I had this very specific image of a kid playing with mud...must have been the muddling of "natural materials" and "joy of play."

    It can be hard for an artist to reflect on their evolution, especially when it is still in progress. I appreciate how open and well spoken he is, and how you enabled a dialogue that encouraged him to speak so (and then presented it to us so well). It's going to be interesting to sniff and reflect on his thoughts, here and in the part yet to come.

    Ha! Thanks for providing me with a chuckle via the Sheldrake comment. :)

  19. Scentscelf, Bertrand is very focused, intense and passionate -- just as kids are when they play. That's one of the things that's so compelling about him, and makes his work so original.

  20. Thank you, that was a truly fascinating read! Looking forward to Part II and, of course, to sniffing Nuit de Tubéreuse - I definitely cannot pass up a fragrance with rooty darkness in it...

  21. This was really delightful, thank you. (And now I'm dying to smell NdT.) I was especially delighted by BD's comments on the way exposure to natural materials has changed his style. I'm so happy he's gotten do more niche work.

    Also interested in Nathan's comment on Bolt of Lightning -- I adore that vegetal thunderstorm opening and will the thrilled to death if NdT approaches it in any way since I can't justify a bottle of the JAR.

  22. Fashionistaag, thanks. It was a fascinating conversation, that's for sure!

  23. Alyssa, basically that comes from not working for a big lab any longer, but going indie -- he'll be speaking more of that in part II on Monday.

  24. Again you set the bar for reviews very high, dear Denyse! I amlate to the tuberose party but now the light bulb has been switched on I am fascinated by the different treatments available. However this does seem unique in that it is not the creamy aspect which is prominent, rather, as you point out, its moist cool roots. And then again - that drydown!

  25. Nicola, you were lucky indeed I didn't take a bite off your wrist. Nuit de Tubéreuse is a marvel at each step of its development, and you wore it well.

  26. "I like to set my own pace, on my own terms."

    I think you might actually have this printed up on a 3x5 card and taped to your computer monitor . . . ?

  27. Nathan, I don't need to: it's seared into my DNA. Not always easy to apply, though... And clearly, Bertrand's the same.

  28. I keep coming back to this review/interview; after falling in love with both Havana Vanille and Al Oudh (so different yet so perfect), I'm afraid I'm setting myself up for major disappointment... and then I come back to your review.
    Even if the fragrance itself doesn't work for me, I'm having fun.
    This feeling reminds me of what it's like when you are interested in someone, and you're not sure if they share your interest: every encounter is an emotional whirlwind that is later agonized over and replayed constantly in your mind.
    Yeah, that's the fun part : )

  29. Dee, I love the way you put it. I think BD's perfumes do integrate that element of uncertainty, that edge that keeps you guessing, because they're such strong, individual options. Every new encounter puts everything at stake again.